The Texas Longhorns were far better than most expected in Tom Herman’s first season at the helm. Things started slowly with early losses to Maryland and USC. There were also some heart-breaking losses along the way to the likes of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech. But Texas was ultimately able to finish 6-6 to qualify for a bowl game. The Longhorns took care of business against Missouri in the Texas Bowl to finish 2017 with a winning record.
Of course, Herman’s success in his first year has raised expectations heading into his second season in Austin. Some are even wondering if the Longhorns are ready to compete for a Big 12 championship and may even have an outside chance of reaching the College Football Playoff.
Oddsmakers are definitely buying into Herman and the Longhorns in 2018. Texas is +4000 to win the national championship this season. That’s just outside the top-10 and unbelievable high for a team that was 7-6 a year ago. However, the Longhorns would actually be a better value pick if they had longer odds.
Meanwhile, Texas is projected to win 8.5 games this season. Herman’s crew would need a two-win improvement from last year to eclipse that total. The Longhorns winning nine games isn’t the craziest thing ever, but it’s not a lock considering how strong the Big 12 is at the top.
Much of the team’s success could hinge on the play of quarterback Sam Ehlinger. The sophomore showed promise as both a runner and pass last year. But he also struggled at times and could have Shane Buechele breathing down his neck all season.
Ehlinger will need to be more consistent for the Texas offense in 2018, and the same can be said of the offensive line. The Longhorns struggled to find a steady rushing attack last year, in part because of the problems up front. In fact, Ehlinger was the team’s leading rusher, and he didn’t even start every game. If the offensive line can improve, the Longhorns have several capable running backs who can help take some of the pressure off Ehlinger.
The Texas defense was actually the biggest reason for the team’s success last year. They were sluggish early in the year but developed into a dominant unit the second half of the season. Naturally, they have lost some of their best playmakers from a season ago. However, Herman has recruited well early in his tenure, so there is a massive amount of talent waiting in the wings. It’s just a matter of some younger players maturing quickly and being able to handle prominent roles.
|Sep 1||@ Maryland Terrapins||12:00 PM|
|Sep 8||Tulsa Golden Hurricane||8:00 PM|
|Sep 15||Southern California Trojans||8:00 PM|
|Sep 22||Texas Christian Horned Frogs||1:00 PM|
|Sep 29||@ Kansas State Wildcats||1:00 PM|
|Oct 6||Oklahoma Sooners||1:00 PM|
|Oct 13||Baylor Bears||1:00 PM|
|Oct 27||@ Oklahoma State Cowboys||1:00 PM|
|Nov 3||West Virginia Mountaineers||1:00 PM|
|Nov 10||@ Texas Tech Red Raiders||1:00 PM|
|Nov 17||Iowa State Cyclones||1:00 PM|
|Nov 23||@ Kansas Jayhawks||12:00 PM|
We should learn a lot about Texas early in the season because they begin with a de-factor road game against a decent Maryland team. Two weeks later, the Longhorns will look to avenge last season’s loss to USC. Texas will be home for that game, but facing the uber-talented Trojans so early in the season will still be a challenge.
When the Big 12 season starts, the Longhorns will benefit from getting their toughest opponents at home. Oklahoma, of course, will be played on neutral turf at the Cotton Bowl. But TCU, West Virginia, and Iowa State will all have to play in Austin this season. If you concede the Big 12 to Oklahoma, those are the three teams that will be fighting it out with Texas for second place and a spot in the Big 12 title game.
With a young team that should get better as the season goes along and a favorable schedule, the Longhorns have a good chance to finish second in the Big 12. That’s not to say they’re ready to take down the Sooners and play for a spot in the College Football Playoff. But reaching the Big 12 Championship Game would be tangible proof that Herman has Texas moving in the right direction.